Mark 10:17-22

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”

He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. Mark 10:17-22

This is such an interesting exchange – a man asks Jesus the second most common question anyone would ask a spiritual teacher (#1 is “Why do bad things happen to good people?”) and Jesus ultimately gives the most difficult, most challenging, answer of all. Get rid of all your stuff. It is getting in the way. Then come and follow me.

Why would wealth get in the way of someone’s spirituality? Martin Luther’s answer remains the simplest explanation of all. From The Large Catechism:

A god is that to which we look for all good and where we resort for help in every time of need; to have a god is simply to trust and believe in one with our whole heart. As I have often said, the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and confidence are right, then likewise your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your confidence is false, if it is wrong, then you have not the true God. For the two, faith and God, have inevitable connection. Now, I say, whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”

That would be a personal answer – but there is also a broader, more communal answer – wealth has the capacity to divide us, dehumanize us, and deceive us. Wealth, possibly more than anything else, makes it more difficult to love our neighbor. We look and judge our neighbor based not on who he or she IS or what he or she DOES but on what he or she HAS.

Notice the commandments that Jesus lists. He skips the first three about our relationship with God. The ones he does list are those directing us how to love our neighbor. Not surprisingly, those sins most often connected to the acquisition and the protection of wealth. And he covers covetousness – the sin most closely linked with the power of wealth to spiritually sicken us – with his challenge to the man to get rid of the stuff that is getting in the way.

We always also notice – and are always surprised (and relieved) – that it says “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Why ought that surprise us? Do you think God doesn’t love rich people? Jesus loved him because Jesus loves everyone. But what a difference it would make if we would start our theology with that rather than falling back on it to justify ourselves.

Maybe then the man’s question would be “Good Teacher, I have many possessions. How can I best use them to love my neighbor?” which is a very different question than the one he asks.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you invite us to pray for our daily bread. You invite us to live one day at a time. But we want so much more and often lose ourselves in our stuff. Open our hearts to ourselves, that we might see what truly drives us, what truly drives us apart. That we might see the love which can alone bring healing. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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